What are Canker Sores?
Canker sores are small ulcers that develop inside the mouth, usually on the gums, the tongue, or the inside of the cheeks. They are painful and can make it difficult to eat or talk. Canker sores are not contagious and typically last for a week or two before healing on their own. The exact cause of canker sores is not known, but they are thought to be triggered by certain things, such as stress, hormonal changes, or certain types of food.
According to Mayoclinic
Canker sores, also called aphthous ulcers, are small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues in your mouth or at the base of your gums. Unlike cold sores, canker sores don't occur on the surface of your lips and they aren't contagious. They can be painful, however, and can make eating and talking difficult.
What are the causes of Canker Sores
The exact cause of canker sores is not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to their development, including:
- Genetic predisposition: Some people may be more likely to develop canker sores due to a family history of the condition.
- Hormonal changes: Hormonal fluctuations, such as those that occur during menstruation, may increase the risk of canker sores.
- Stress: Stress and anxiety can weaken the immune system and make an individual more susceptible to canker sores.
- Nutrient deficiencies: A lack of certain nutrients, such as iron, zinc, and B vitamins, may increase the risk of canker sores.
- Infections: Certain infections, such as herpes simplex virus and Candida albicans, may trigger the development of canker sores.
- Trauma: Physical injury to the mouth, such as biting the cheek or tongue, or using a toothbrush or mouthguard that is too hard or too rough, can cause canker sores to develop.
- Allergies: Allergic reactions to certain foods or medications may trigger the development of canker sores.
- Autoimmune disorders: Some autoimmune disorders, such as Crohn's disease and celiac disease, may increase the risk of canker sores.
What are the types of Canker sores?
Canker sores are classified into three main types:
- Minor canker sores: These are the most common type of canker sore and are small (less than 1 cm in diameter), shallow ulcers that typically heal within a week or two.
- Major canker sores: These are larger (more than 1 cm in diameter) and deeper than minor canker sores and can take longer to heal. They may also cause more severe pain and discomfort.
- Herpetiform canker sores: These are small (less than 1 cm in diameter), shallow ulcers that typically occur in clusters of 10-100. They may be more painful and take longer to heal than minor canker sores.
What are the treatment options for Canker Sores?
The cure for canker sores depends on the severity and duration of the ulcers. In most cases, minor canker sores will heal on their own within a week or two without the need for treatment. For more severe or persistent canker sores, treatment options may include:
- Pain relief medication: Over-the-counter pain relief medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help to reduce pain and discomfort associated with canker sores.
- Topical creams or gels: These may be applied directly to the canker sore to help numb the area and promote healing.
- Antibacterial mouthwashes: These may be used to kill bacteria and prevent infection in canker sores.
- Corticosteroid ointments: These may be prescribed by a doctor to help reduce inflammation and promote healing in severe or persistent canker sores.
- Vitamin and mineral supplements: A healthcare provider may recommend supplements, such as iron, zinc, or B vitamins, to help improve the overall health of the mouth and reduce the risk of canker sores.
- Avoiding triggers: Identifying and avoiding triggers, such as certain foods or medications, may help to prevent the development of canker sores.
What is the difference between canker sores and cold sores?
Canker sores and cold sores are two different types of mouth ulcers.
Canker sores are small, shallow ulcers that occur inside the mouth, typically on the gums, tongue, or inner cheek. They are not contagious and are believed to be caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, hormonal changes, stress, and nutrient deficiencies.
Cold sores, on the other hand, are small, painful blisters that typically occur on the lips or around the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are highly contagious. Cold sores typically heal within a week or two, but the virus can remain dormant in the body and cause recurrent outbreaks. Canker sores are generally not contagious, while cold sores are highly contagious.
What happens if canker sores are left untreated?
In most cases, canker sores will heal on their own within a week or two without the need for treatment. However, if left untreated, canker sores can become more severe and take longer to heal. In some cases, untreated canker sores may become infected, leading to more severe pain and discomfort, and may require treatment with antibiotics. In rare cases, untreated canker sores may lead to more serious health problems, such as malnutrition or difficulty swallowing. It is important to seek medical treatment if canker sores do not improve within a few weeks, or if they are causing severe pain or discomfort.
How to prevent canker sores
While it is not always possible to prevent canker sores, there are several steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk:
- Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid potential triggers, such as certain foods or medications, that may cause or worsen canker sores.
- Eat a healthy diet: Consume a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as sufficient amounts of iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
- Manage stress: Practice stress-management techniques, such as meditation or exercise, to help reduce the risk of canker sores.
- Avoid oral trauma: Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoid biting or chewing on hard or sharp objects to prevent injury to the mouth.
- Use an antimicrobial mouthwash: Regular use of an antimicrobial mouthwash may help to prevent infection and reduce the risk of canker sores.
- Talk to a dentist: A healthcare provider can provide guidance on managing canker sores and may be able to recommend medications or supplements to help prevent the condition.
When to see a doctor for canker sores?
It is generally not necessary to see a doctor for minor canker sores that are small and shallow and heal within a week or two without treatment. However, it may be necessary to see a doctor for canker sores that are large, deep, or persistent, or for canker sores that are causing severe pain or discomfort. A doctor may be able to provide treatment to help reduce pain and promote healing or may refer the individual to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment if necessary. It is also important to see a dentist or doctor if canker sores are accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, difficulty swallowing, or swelling of the face or neck.